Sikhs, Muslims File Complaint vs. Boomers Amusement Park Over Headgear

Sikhs and Muslims say they can ride the go-karts safely while wearing hijabs and turbans

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Several Sikhs and Muslims in California announced filing discrimination complaints with the state on Tuesday, alleging that they were unfairly told they couldn't wear turbans and hijabs while riding go-karts at an amusement park with locations in California, Florida and New York.

The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and United Sikhs held simultaneous news conferences in Anaheim and Santa Clara to discuss their filing of public accommodation complaints against Boomers with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Boomers is a subsidiary of Palace Entertainment Holdings in Newport Beach, Calif.

CAIR spokeswoman Zahra Billoo said there are two other complainants in Orange County, (PDF) with another one about to file. All allege violations of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act based on Boomers unwillingness to permit park attendees wearing religious head coverings from riding go-karts.

Michele Wischmeyer, the vice president of marketing for Palace Entertainment, told NBC Bay Area she stood by the park's policy of not allowing headgear.

"It's our park, they are our guests and their safety is our concern," she said.

She said previous catastrophes at go-kart tracks were caused primarily by loose clothing, long hair and headgear getting caught in the engine and other equipment.

"It has nothing to do with a discrimination policy and everything to do with a safety policy," she said. She declined to comment on another area park, Six Flags in Vallejo, allowing headgear on its go-karts.

The Bay Area complainant is Noorah Abdo, an 8th grader in Sunnyvale, who says she was told last August during the festival of Eid when she was 13 that she couldn't wear a hijab to ride the go-kart at the Boomers in Livermore.

"I would be happy to wear a hoodie or some other device," Noorah said at the news conference in Santa Clara. "I don't understand why Boomers discriminates against Muslim girls."

Download Nasir Abdo's Complaint on Behalf of Daughter

According to the complaint, her father, Nasir Abdo, asked if his daughter could tuck her scarf into her shirt - just like the park allows for girls with long hair. But the manager answered no. "I don't make the rules, I just enforce them," was the answer he got, according to his complaint.

Arminder Singh, 26, and his three younger cousins, who say they were told they couldn't wear "patkas" - or small turbans - on the go-karts visiting the same park last July, plan to file a similar complaint.

Not letting Sikhs and Muslims whiz around the tracks, she said, "effectively bans thousands of local residents from riding the Go-Karts solely based on their faith," Billoo said.

She also said that the "catastrophes" that Boomers' references occurred in other countries, including Australia and Turkey, and that the United States has much stricter safety standards. She added that Sikh men, who wear turbans or "patkas," and Muslim women, who wear head scarves or hijabs, are willing to discuss how to come to a compromise over religious head gear and safety, but that the park leadership has been unwilling.

Wischmeyer told NBC Bay Area she just learned that there had been safety talks between the park's attorney and CAIR and United Sikhs, but didn't know enough about it to comment.

In addition, Billoo said that Sikhs and Muslims really took offense to the tone of an old informational sheet Boomers used to hand out, which has since been revised.

The old sheet, obtained by NBC Bay Area, (PDF) states:  "If fashion, religious expression or your hair style is more important to you than safety, that's fine. You can do what you want with your life. You just can't do it at our park."

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